Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
What assessment he has made of the potential merits of the full reopening of the Leamside line.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Chris Heaton-Harris)
The Leamside line is being assessed as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail and will be considered within the integrated rail plan.
As the Minister said, the proposal to reopen the Leamside line in full is being considered as part of the integrated rail plan. We were told to expect an answer in March, then it was April, and now we are almost in May without any further news, so when can my constituents expect to find out if the Government intend to follow through on their promise to level up from Westminster to Wearside?
We certainly intend to follow through on our promises to the people in the north-east and Wearside, something that decades of Labour disinterest in that area have failed to deliver. Ahead of finalising the integrated rail plan, we are fully considering the evidence from all stakeholders; we have had an awful lot. I just remind the hon. Lady, who I know supports this scheme, that it was driven by local campaigners, at the start with a guy called Christopher Howarth, who was a Conservative campaigner. There was little interest from her party or its representatives before he got involved.
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This answer from the Minister is of course, incorrect.
Sharon Hodgson has been campaigning to have the metro, and therefore the Leamside line, re-established since she was a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) back in 2005. Indeed also, Sharon's predecessors, Labour's Baroness Joyce Quin (Gateshead East and Washington West) and Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington East), both called for the reinstatement of the Leamside line, before her.
Text of Sharon Hodgson MP's subsequent letter to the Minister here.
29th April 2021
I write to request that you correct the record, following your answer to my question at [today/yesterday’s] Transport Questions as it seems as it stands you inadvertently misled the House.
In your answer, you said:
“I just remind the hon. Lady, who I know supports this scheme, that it was driven by local campaigners, at the start with a guy called Christopher Howarth, who was a Conservative campaigner. There was little interest from her party or its representatives before he got involved.”
It is not true that this scheme has been driven by Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate, Mr Howarth.
It is not true that there has been little interest from the Labour Party.
You may be aware of some of my personal campaigning on this issue, which dates back to my election campaign in 2005, where I first called for an extension of the Metro and the re-opening of Leamside, and have done ever since. I was told that this would not happen by local transport agencies, but have maintained this campaign across the following 16 years alongside colleagues and constituents.
Your own Department’s records will confirm this, but I have also provided some evidence for your convenience below.
I have presented five separate petitions to Parliament calling on the line to be re-opened:
- HC Deb vol 553 P001131 (13 November 2012);
- HC Deb vol 559 P001160 (4 March 2013);
- HC Deb vol 580 P001346 (6 May 2014);
- HC Deb vol 593 P001445 (4 March 2015);
- HC Deb vol 690 P002650 (3 March 2021).
On 22 July 2016, I wrote to the Transport Secretary calling on him to support the North East Combined Authority decision to support calls for the extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro to Washington, by re-opening the Leamside line:
On 20 December 2017, I wrote to the Transport Secretary on his Department’s rail report to highlight the benefits of re-opening Leamside:
On 13 March 2019, I submitted to the Department for Transport’s Call for Evidence on light rail regarding the Leamside line, copying in then-Transport Secretary Chris Grayling:
In 2020, I was the parliamentary sponsor of the first Restoring Your Railways bid.
In addition to this, I have repeatedly brought this issue to Parliament on behalf of my constituents at departmental question time, budget debates, Westminster Hall debates and in written questions (for example WH Deb vol 553 col 14WH 13 November 2012; HC Deb vol 607 col 1334 21 March 2016; HC Deb vol 627 col 422 13 July 2017.)
I would also like to remind the Minister of my colleague Bridget Phillipson’s campaigning on this issue, first mentioning it in Parliament in 2014 (HC Deb vol 671 col 395 15 October 2014), and writing in the Sunderland Echo on it in 2019.
The Minister may also be aware that my former colleague, Fraser Kemp MP, campaigned on this issue when MP for Houghton and Washington East, raising it in the Commons (eg HC Deb vol 473 col 1089 20 March 2008) and across local press.
I would like to remind the Minister that this campaign is not a vanity project for any person involved, but is a local one that looks to better the lives of residents across Tyne and Wear, and Durham, for a transformative future for this part of the North East.
For that reason, I am happy to have worked cross-party alongside the newly elected Paul Howell MP on the Restoring Your Railways bid.
I am also grateful for the work of rail campaigners across the North East, such as David Willoughby.
To suggest that this is a one-man campaign - whose contributions as far as I can see date back only one year to around the time he stood in the election for my neighbouring seat - and just because his was the only name you had in front of you, detracts from all the hard work and passion felt by all campaigners across this line over more than two decades.
You were therefore incorrect to say that the scheme has been driven by Mr. Howarth, and that the Labour Party has taken little interest. My constituents will be well aware of my activity on this for over 16 years and I’ve attached just a couple of examples of the dozens of media articles that have covered my work on this, but there has been other such media coverage over the years from my colleagues’ activity as well as that of others in the local community.
I would therefore welcome you to correct the record immediately, having inadvertently misled the House. I have copied the Speaker into this letter for his advice.
Sharon Hodgson MP